An undercover operation that netted dozens of arrests on illegal dumping charges Tuesday centered on a dirt broker who offered residents clean fill and instead arranged for debris and solid waste to be placed on their properties, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said.
Anthony C. Grazio, also known as Rock, was one of 24 people arrested in the monthslong Operation Pay Dirt — the largest bust for illegal dumping of construction and demolition debris in the state’s history, officials said.
The investigation also resulted in charges against 12 companies in connection with the dumping. Investigators seized 27 trucks and froze $4.4 million in accounts, Sini announced at a Wednesday news conference in Brentwood State Park near the site of some of the alleged dumping.
The investigation “uncovered an underground world of dirt brokers, solid waste facilities and trucking companies” working together to dump illegally, Sini said.
The work, part of a larger crackdown on illegal dumping launched by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called Operation TrashNet, also uncovered 21 new dumping sites, officials said. It was conducted by the district attorney’s office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County police detectives.
Pay Dirt focused on 25 illegal dump sites, including backyards, public land, parks and properties next to bodies of water, Sini said. Investigators executed 20 search warrants, officials said.
Joseph Cozzo, an attorney for Grazio, 53, of Smithtown, and another defendant, Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, said his clients deny the charges against them, including that Grazio is a dirt broker. He said third parties that Grazio and Fragola received fill from told them the materials were “up to code.”
“They live here on the Island,” Cozzo, whose office is in Central Islip, said of his clients. “The last thing they’re looking to do is live somewhere and contaminate the place.”
Investigators found Grazio brokered deals with recycling and solid waste management facilities and trucking companies to illegally dump construction and demolition debris into Suffolk parks and backyards, Sini said. Grazio also sold or offered clean fill to residents through online advertisements and door-to-door solicitation, and showed them “bogus lab reports” about the fill’s contents, Sini said. Some homeowners paid the contractors to spread the fill in their yards, he added.
Grazio was charged with 50 felony counts, including criminal mischief, and 74 misdemeanors, according to court records. His bail was set at $167,000 bond or $77,000 cash, his attorney said.
A special grand jury was convened Wednesday to investigate the cases, look into remediation steps, and report back on how to reduce illegal dumping, Sini said. Investigators also plan to seize and forfeit assets used in the scheme, Sini said.
“The only dumping that will occur in Suffolk County is dumping of the full weight of the criminal justice system on those who are responsible for dumping in Suffolk county,” he said.
The companies charged saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by dumping illegally, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said at the news conference.
Legal disposal costs about $1,500 per truckload of material on Long Island, and the cost can double or triple depending on the contents, a DEC official said. Solid waste management facilities involved in the investigation paid trucking companies $700 per load to haul the material away illegally, the official said.
“They put the health of Suffolk County residents at risk for pure greed,” Sini said.
When they learned of the investigation, they “delivered waste to Connecticut,” Sini said.
The operation started in February after investigators found evidence that Grazio solicited a Central Islip homeowner with free clean fill to grade his land and instead arranged to have solid waste that contained hazardous substances placed there, Sini said.
Grazio coordinated with Fragola, the owner of West Babylon-based New York Trucking & Carting, to “run loads of solid waste for profit,” Sini said. For almost a week, the company “had trucks dumping solid waste at the homeowner’s yard — material the homeowner believed to be clean fill,” Sini said.
Fragola was charged with a felony count of criminal mischief and two misdemeanors, court records show. He also faces three drug possession-related charges, court records show.
The suspects could face up to 7 years in prison per charge related to illegal dumping if convicted, Sini said.
Suffolk County Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said “it’s very disturbing” that suspects “turned backyards into toxic waste dumps.”
Officials announced the arrest next to a Brentwood North Middle School property that became an illegal dump site while a nonprofit youth soccer club was planning to refurbish it and use it for soccer fields.
The illegal fill was disposed of by Durante Brothers Construction Corp. of Queens and brought to the middle school property by Smithtown-based CSF Materials Corp., Sini said.That deal was brokered by Christopher Bonsera, the brother of CSF owner Michael Bonsera, Sini said.
Elected officials representing Brentwood, including Assemb. Phil Ramos and Suffolk Legis. Monica Martinez, said they were outraged by the illegal dumping that disproportionately occurs in the community.
“Our community needs to be brought to a level where they can feel safe,” Martinez said.
In 2014, investigators discovered nearly 40,000 tons of contaminated debris in Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood. The dumping, which involved three other parcels in Suffolk, led to the convictions of five men, including two Islip Town parks employees.
Tuesday’s arrests were the most for illegal dumping in the state since 2001, when 35 people and 21 businesses were indicted on charges of allegedly dumping thousands of gallons of waste fluid, including motor oil and antifreeze, officials said. The current investigation is focused on solid waste.
Authorities asked anyone with information about illegal dumping to call the district attorney’s office at 631-853-5602 or the DEC tip hotline at 844-332-3267.
Those arrested in Operation Pay Dirt's investigation of illegal dumping on Long Island:
Jose Luis Adamez of the Bronx
Ivan Cesar Bermeo of Queens
Chris C. Bonsera of St. James
Michael C. Bonsera of East Norwich
Alexander Canales of Selden
Angel Cornejo of Queens
Feliciano Cruz of Queens
Gonzalo Figueroa-Marroquin of Riverhead
Vito Fragola of Commack
Anthony Grazio of Smithtown
Michael Heinrichs of Port Jefferson Station
Joseph Lamberta of Hauppauge
Ramon Mejia-Hernandez of Brooklyn
Carlos Melgar of Patchogue
Yasmael Nunez of Queens
Steven Nunezgenao of Port Jefferson Station
Milan R. Parik of Centereach
James Perruzza of Fort Salonga
Frank Rotondo Jr. of Northport
Dwayne Sanders of Central Islip
Alberto Santiago of Shirley
Thomas R. StClair of St. James
Wilfred Torres of Ronkonkoma
Robert Walters of Nesconset
DJCI Enterprises LLC of Bay Shore
IEV Industries Corp. of Bay Shore
Kris Trucking of Queens
Modern Leasing A/K/A Dumpmasters of Bay Shore
Modern Leasing A/K/A Silver Star of Bay Shore
New York Trucking And Carting (NYTAC) Corp of West Babylon
Starfire Industries Inc. of Medford
St. Clair/Clairco Industries LLC of Medford
Durante Bros. Construction Corp. of Queens
South Shore Materials of Bay Shore